In the beginning

This is a paper I wrote as a requirement for a Diaconate training course within the OCA (Orthodox Church in America) under Fr. Silviu Buntu. The topic of the course was traditional Orthodox interpretation of Scripture.


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The goal of this paper will be to illustrate traditional interpretation of Scripture as practiced by the Jews and early Christians and continued primarily in the Eastern Church.

In the West there is a recent movement to treat the scriptures as a piece of literature. Dead words on a dead page to be dissected and picked apart, its organs harvested and distilled, at best down to medicine or tools, and at worst mere entertainment.

Contrast this with historical understanding and practices, where Scripture is alive and timeless.

The fundamental lens through which its authors and early audiences looked at scripture is the bifocal lens of:

  1. God is speaking to and about you.
  2. When God speaks, it is for your edification (it is useful to you).

Let us turn to, and examine, a sermon of our Father among the saints, St. John Chrysostom, in order to see how this lens might help transmit the light of God into our souls.

I chose this scripture, and the sermon on it, as a test and a proof. If this lens is a useful lens, it will be able to be used to examine literally any passage of scripture. So why not the very first passage? I also happened to have St. John Chrysostom Eight Sermons on the Book of Genesis translated by Robert Charles Hill from Holy Cross Orthodox Press sitting on my shelf just calling me to read it. So to prove this point I decided (without having read a single word of the first sermon) to simply use the very first sermon and whatever scripture it happened to focus on as the subject of my paper. I was in no way disappointed, and in fact delighted with what I found. I read both this sermon and the scriptural topic of it more deeply than most sermons or scriptures I’ve read before. The scriptures are truly a mine rich with veins of precious stones and ore beyond counting or comprehension.

Let us begin our examination of Chrysostom’s sermon with the very question we are attempting to prove is the foundation of the traditional lens of interpretation:

What relevance to us, you ask, has the account of Creation? Well, it does have relevance to us, dearly beloved: if “the creator is perceived by analogy in the immensity and beauty of created things,” we are guided to the creator to the extent that we dwell upon the beauty and immensity of created things.

It is a great good to know, on the one hand what a created thing is and, on the other, what the creator is, what an artifact is and what the artificer: if the enemies of truth knew how to make a precise distinction between them, they would not confuse everything, putting below what is above – not that they bring stars and heaven down or elevate the earth, but that they thrust down the king of heaven from his royal throne, placed him with creation, and dignified creation with the ranking of divinity.

Turning to our lens through which we are to prove the Fathers look at scripture, we see that Chrysostom is indeed immediately explicitly asking both of the questions that comprise this lens. Again, this lens is that: God is speaking to and about you in a useful way.

Chrysostom’s explanation for these things has to do with those heretics who say that God is emergent from the universe, making God subservient to the universe. These heretics survive to this day although they know not their fathers the Manicheans (although the modern heretics may know the Greeks). As Chrysostom says, if God emerged from the universe —as did we— then He is no more God than we are, and creation itself is the Creator.

This is great, and true! But what does it say about us exactly? How does this prove our lens? He comes back to answer this:

The sky is beautiful, but the reason it was made was for you to adore its maker; the sun is brilliant, but it is for you to worship its creator. If, on the contrary, you are bent on stopping at the wonder of creation, and becoming attached to the beauty of the works, light has become darkness for you — or, rather, you have turned light into darkness.

Do you see how great a good it is to know the doctrine of creation?

Chrysostom’s argument here seems to be that all of creation points towards, and should draw you into, the worship of the creator. Looking at our scripture through our lens, Chrysostom seems to indicate that what the Bible is actually saying is, “In the beginning, God made heaven and earth for you. He filled it with beauty to delight you; to show you how special you are, how worthy of all good things you are, and through this immense numinous inspiring greatness point with but a glimmer towards how deserving of your worship God is.”

Chrysostom then turns to examine why God would speak of the origin of all things in the way that He did. Not only why use the words He used, but why written? Chrysostom points out that the accounts of Genesis show that God at first spoke directly to man, but that

since our nature took a turn for evil, and separated itself by a lengthy exile, as it were, at long last He sent us letters as though we were absent for a long time and He intended to reestablish the former friendship through an epistle. While it was God who sent the letters, it was Moses who brought them.

Again we see the lens revealed. “In the beginning God made heaven and earth” is the overture of a lengthy and carefully worded love ballad to woo our hearts and draw us back to him. This isn’t “history” or “scientific records” or “documentation”. It’s not put there to disprove evolution, or even (as he is somewhat using it) to argue against Greek philosophy or Manicheanism. It’s a love letter. To you.

So, that’s why written. You are in a far off country, and God is seeking to call you home to Him. But, what about the words? Why those words?

why did He not speak to us about the angels, or about the archangels? After all, if the creator is discerned in created things, much more does He become visible through them. Heaven is beautiful, but not as beautiful as an angel; the sun is brilliant, but not as brilliant as an archangel; so why did He reject the higher way to lead us by the lower? […] It was not possible to guide [the jews Moses was speaking to] to the creator by the higher way: high though that way is, it is more rugged, steep and rather direct for the weaker kind. Hence He leads [the Jews] by the easier route, through heaven and earth and sea and the whole of visible creation. […]

Just as with teachers, you see, the teacher who receives the child from the mother teaches it the elements first, whereas the one who receives it from another teacher leads the pupil to a higher level of teaching, so too was it in the case of Moses and Paul and John: Moses came upon our nature when it was just weaned and knew nothing, and so he taught it the elements of the knowledge of God, whereas John and Paul, receiving them from master Moses, as it were, led them on to the higher level of teaching, reminding them in brief of what had preceded.

This quote was excerpted from two pages in which he went to some lengths to show that throughout the scripture the case God is making becomes more and more advanced, but that God, through Moses, begins at the most basic and easily understood place. Not that it is any less true, but for infants with no teeth, this milk is all that can yet be consumed. 

This speaks to the second aspect of our lens, that is, that all scripture is useful to us. God is teaching us about ourselves and about himself and he starts at the most basic starting point of all. “I made everything.” No matter where you are on your spiritual journey, this is the easiest and most basic definition of God. “Creator of all”. 

Soon he will move on to more advanced things, such as “I AM”, which in itself is incomprehensible, but still meaningful for us. But he has to take us by the hand as we toddle along and take those baby steps to get there. So, again, this proves the point that traditional interpretation of scripture sees all scripture as being somehow useful to us, and in this case part of that usefulness is that it is immediately usable.

The opening lines of the Bible are not placed there for historical purposes (although they are historically accurate in that God did indeed create all) but rather there to teach us about Him and our relation to Him, namely that we are dust and He is God.

Chrysostom spends the next two pages showing that this single opening line is of great value and use to you in refuting Manicheanism (a dualistic —light vs dark, good vs evil— religion which does not consider God omnipotent, but rather a force locked in an eternal conflict with an opposite) and Manicheanism’s children both externally, but also in yourself. He points out how little we know about even how the food we are eating becomes our body, or really how any other things actually work. If we can’t even understand basic physical created things, how could we dare to question God’s method or ability to create:

if He is infinitely different from us and surpasses us incomparably, how would it not be a mark of utter madness to confess both His wisdom and His power as divine and incomprehensible, and yet call Him to account in the same fashion for each of the things that happen as one would some human skill?

“The reasoning of mortals is worthless, and their designs insecure.” So do not forsake what is reliable by entrusting the salvation of your soul to what is unsteady and insecure; instead, stay firm in what you learned and to which you are committed, and say, In the beginning God made heaven and earth.

You understand, in comparison to all that there is to understand, closer to nothing than everything. Your knowledge is so limited as to be laughable on the grand scale. But God knows, because He made it all. Do you fear? Do you doubt? Do you worry? Say to yourself, “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth”. This scripture is useful to you in that it is pragmatically usable by you. God made everything. God knows everything. You are dust, and completely in His power and knowledge. Trust Him over you.

In the midst of this Chrysostom takes a slight, but meaningful, diversion to show the continuity between the Old and New Testament:

Do you see the relationship of both Testaments? Do you see the harmony of the teaching? Did you hear of the creation of material things in the Old and David speaking of spiritual things, “Because He spoke, and they were created”? Likewise in turn in the New, they spoke of the invisible powers, and spoke also of material creation.

He is touching on a heresy that has long plagued the church (and never will go away in all probability). That is, that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different from the God of the New. However, the Orthodox understanding is that He is the same God. This speaks to the usefulness of the text to you. If you don’t have it firmly established in your mind that this God who made all things is the same God who loved you so much that he gave His very life for you, then it is possible you won’t see this opening line of much use other than as some sort of “Just So” story. No more relevant to you than “How the Elephant Got its Trunk”.

Near the end of the sermon, Chrysostom turns towards a call to charity:

Now, God is glorified not only through right teachings but also through a blameless life; in the words of Scripture, “let your light shine in people’s sight so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” I intended to add words about almsgiving; but it seems superfluous for me to instruct you by word when there is one seated in your midst who is capable of teaching you by deed, the father and teacher of us all1. He has always made available to those hounded on all quarters for the sake of truth […] our possessions then become most of all ours when our possession of them is not for ourselves but always for the poor. 

Chrysostom here shows that the Earth and all within it belongs to God. That which you can give away is the only thing you truly own. Otherwise it owns you, you are the servant and beneficiary of it. So, since God has given all to us, it shows that He is the true owner of all. He is the creator, and the owner. He existed prior to it, and thus does not rely on it for His existence. He is not dependent upon it for his survival. He can give it away and be harmed not at all. 

The way that Chrysostom makes this point though is brilliant because for those that miss the point, it doesn’t matter at all that they missed it, because what they certainly do get is that he is exhorting them to almsgiving. He states that giving to the poor is the best possible investment you can make.

And how do we know? Because God Himself sets this example for us. The widow gave all she had (her two mites). What use is two mites when it is all you have? God gave all He had to us. But to Him it was less than two mites. It was nothing, because he relied on it not at all, and could in no way be sustained by it. Yet it was everything because it was all that is, and indeed He went even further and gave His very Self to us. This investment in “the poor” (us —for we have nothing and are utterly impoverished) was the investment He chose to make because it gained Him all he desired. That is, it gained Him us which though He Himself made of dust he treasures above all else. Likewise, if we but give our two mites, which aren’t even ours to begin with, we gain2 all our hearts desire, and incalculable wealth —in that we gain Him.

  1. I misread this portion of the text to assume Chrysostom was literally referring to God when he said “There is one seated in your midst…”, when in actuality he was seemingly referring to Bishop Flavion. That said, even if Chrysostom himself never intended to make the point I saw in his words, I like to think it is possible that it was a hidden meaning in his words, even if purely accidental.
  2. This is not to be taken in a “transactional” way. This isn’t “Simony”. You can’t “buy” God, anymore than He can “buy” us. It’s more like… If you’re in a hot air balloon, trying to get altitude, and you’re weighed down by a ton of “stuff”, it would be the dumping off of that stuff that would “gain” you the altitude you desire. You’re not buying it, it isn’t transactional, but it is still necessary (to your ability to gain altitude) that you dump the extraneous weight. So, giving away the “two mites” might seem like you’re “buying” something, but it isn’t. There’s no guarantee. It’s not transactional. So many other things have to be correct (environment, wind, and weather, fuel, flame, basket, ropes, canvas, etc). Throw all the money and sandbags you want on the ground and it isn’t going to make you float up into the air.

Titania

This is what the Halloween Writing Contest entry turned into. It’s so different from where it began that it might as well be a new story entirely. You can go read the original if you’d like to compare for yourself.


Halloween night. The perfect time for a summoning. Or ordering bags of your favorite candy from Amazon and hoping your house get’s TP’d (which, this year amounts to an act of charitable giving).

It’s time to get some answers, and maybe start to fix whatever the heck (waves hand in circular motion) “all this is”.

Summoning is pretty simple. Make a circle on the ground (chalk is easiest). Set the mood with a few or as many of the items that remind you of your intent as you can. Invest it with a drop of blood. Concentrate really hard on who or what you want to appear there. Say their Name three times and pull really hard like you’re Luke Skywalker trying to get the light saber out of the ice and then hope to God you have the mental fortitude to maintain concentration to keep the being physically bound within the circle. Bigger the being, stronger the circle needs to be; it’s more art and psychology than science (actually its specifically not science. It’s magic). Whatever you do, don’t break the circle.

“Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell.”

Snap, crackle, pop, and there she is. Six inches of blazing light zipping around like a banshee venting her fury (yeah, being summoned always pisses them off) with pyrotechnics that make Michael Bay look like an amateur. So beautiful… Stay focused! Just because she can’t get to you physically doesn’t mean she isn’t already in your head.

She freezes in mid-air, spinning around to face me, balanced on one leg, toes pointed to rest delicately on what looks like an illuminated manuscript painting of the sun floating flatly a foot above the ground. Smile spreading mischievously across her face.

“Good evening Andrew.” 

I’d stumbled across this particular pixie some years ago. Kids, don’t try this at home, but you can go fishing for fae and hope that whatever you happen to call doesn’t completely outclass you and eat your brain. I’d realized that there was zero chance Walt Disney was making it all up, and was probably “in the know” like the Brothers Grimm before him. So I picked a being he portrayed as powerful, but also mostly benign, and hoped he wasn’t too far off. I was in no way disappointed.

“Good evening Tink.”

She nods her head demurely, and I relax a little now that her initial anger at being summoned has faded and we are no longer fighting a battle of wills. She begins to zip more calmly around the circle examining the focus items I have set around the edges just outside the chalk lines. As she nears them the candles change hue slightly (neat trick…) and the flame grows a little. If I cared to, I could have gazed into the flame and caught glimpses of things

She zips from the little pile of miniature pumpkins, across to the giant Russian sunflower head, and then over to a painting of Peter Pan, at which she oddly turns an angry bright red all over, stomps her foot and sticks out her tongue. The nearby candles flare greatly and I catch a glimpse of a man in a woman’s arms in one and a woman gazing coldly at them from another for just a moment, before she turns to give me a flat sorrowful glare.

“What is it you require?” She asks, and then zips off across to a beloved stuffed koala that used to keep me company in my crib as a child. “Oooh!” She squeals in delight a little shower of dust sprinkling out (there’s the stuff!) while she dances and spins, exclaiming, “But you would have made such a lost boy!” And as quickly as the exclamation had come it was gone again and now she’s standing gazing longingly at a little pile of dark chocolate salted caramels.

Faeries are unpredictable and have the attention span of a gnat. Which is odd, since they’re immortal… But I guess when something with a lifespan that would measure in comparative eye blinks wants to talk to you, it’s probably hard to pay them much mind at all, especially given all the billion year old relationships you have to maintain. It was honestly shocking she even remembered my name from one summoning to the next, but maybe it had something to do with our bargain.

“Pixie dust.” I hold up a nearly empty leather bag and give it a little shake to indicate my poverty. Happy thoughts and a little magic dust and you can fly. Tink here is my source.

She rolls her eyes, “Surely that’s not all.”

“Pay up Tink! We have a deal.”

She gives me an unamused deadpan glare and begins to hop, fairy dust showering down in a little ring all around her. “There. Good?”

“Actually, one more thing…”

“As expected…” She smiles guilelessly, “what else?”

Gulp. Those teeth and dimples. I feel bad brining it up, but still, I’ve had enough! “What  is going on!?” I yell at her, a little more angrily than I had intended. Actually, I hadn’t intended to yell at all. But seriously! What is going on?

She freezes with the stillness of a house cat intent on a rabbit, and some part of my brain sounds an alarm that it can’t decide which she reminds me more of.

“I thought so.” I nod, tight lipped and determined.

“Whatever are you talking about?” She says through her frozen smile, barely affecting any of the faux innocence she’s going for.

“Give it up Tink. The world is falling right the hell apart. Global Pandemic, riots going on over 100 days now, choice between a clown and a vegetable for president. What. Is. Going. On.”

She turns, nose in the air, eyes closed and begins walking slowly around the edge of the circle, “Even if I had any idea what was happening in your silly mortal world, this is a crass breach of etiquette and decorum. Something I thought was well beneath you Andrew.” She finishes with a sniff and a toss of her head.

Oh. Of course. Not only was I perhaps ruining the game by being a little too straight forward (fae love verbal sparring and puzzles) but I was asking for something for nothing, which was extremely inconsiderate. “Strike a new bargain?”

She stops and straightens a bit. I’ve got her attention. Faeries can never resist a bargain.

“No. You’re not taking my first-born, don’t even ask.”

She spins around to look at me again, “Oh come now Andrew,” she pouts and stomps her foot, every bit the picture of Tinker Bell, “you could at least have let me ask… You don’t have to be rude and take the fun out.”

“Ok, fine, you can ask.”

She grins eagerly, “A fair trade would be your firstb—”

“No. Next offer”

She rolls her eyes and groans.

“Come on, my knees are getting cold on this rough concrete, and its freezing down here. My nose is going to start dripping, and I’m super hungry. In fact, tell you what, give up the goods and I’ll give you an entire pizza.”

She brightens, and I don’t mean figuratively, I mean she literally explodes with yellow light. If there’s one thing I’ve been told faeries love, its pizza. Well, pizza and first born children. Then she dims visibly and wilts down to stand on the ground, her arms folded across beneath her chest. “I can’t.”

“You can’t what?”

“I can’t… make… any deals about what’s going on right now with those outside of Faerie…”

What? That’s… That’s huge actually. Fae make deals like they breathe air. It’s part of what powers them. They also can’t lie. So. Wow, ok this is big. I mean, global events already said it was big, but this is like, actually confirmed to not just be stupid bad luck on a global scale. Wait, going on right now. See, that’s the other thing about Faeries, they can’t lie, but like talking to an introvert if you actually listen to them you can find out all sorts of stuff.

“Say there Tink… Remember the 1918 flu?”

“I might… What are you offering?”

“Pizza. One piece per question answered.”

“Whole pizza, 3 questions.”

“Deal, but ‘remember the 1918 flu’ doesn’t count as one of the questions.”

Something not entirely unlike an invisible vice cranking down on her tightens and she shutters and blinks three times rapidly “Done and bound. Ask your questions three.”

“When was the last event of this magnitude?”

“541 through 1453”

Wait… That’s like 900 years…

“Was that the time span of some sort of Fae war or something?” I ask myself under my breath.

“Everything is some sort of Fae war or something Andrew. Next question.”

“Wat! No! I was thinking out loud!”

“And I was answering in kind. What is your next question.”

I gaze at her as she stands there regally. Calm, collected, elegant. The candles set around the circle sputter softly in the crisp, what should have been slightly stale dank basement air, but instead smells of summer fields, fresh lightning, magnolia blossoms, and babbling brooks. A full five minutes pass before I realize I had become utterly lost in awe of her beauty, as if somehow gazing simultaneously at an ocean sunrise, a glorious mountain range, a field of ripe wheat, every manner of spring and summer flower, a bee at work on an apple blossom, a wedded lover’s first embrace, a nursing newborn babe, and an ancient couple falling asleep forever in each other’s arms. The bottomless depth of her eyes held me fast and it took an extreme gasping effort to break the gaze I’d realized had rolled back the curtains and allowed my spirit to peek out and likewise to be observed.

“Yes… you will do.” She whispers, decisively, motionless, but somehow wholly angled toward me in a hungry anticipation.

What in the blazes? “Who… Who are you?”

“Titania.” A feeling like thunder rumbles through the air and my mental shock brings a taste like a mouth full of pennies. I lose my focus, lose my balance, and accidentally set my hand down over the circle’s chalk line to steady myself —thereby shattering the circle’s power.

She pounces on my hand immediately. “Andrew, Andrew, Andrew….” She casually enthralls me. “My new pet!” She claps and giggles, dancing from foot to foot and spinning in a circle.

Oh no. Oh. No. nononononono. My scalp tingles and the hair stands up on the back of my neck. The “pixie” steps forward, walking slowly up my arm, each step leaving little pin-pricks of sunburn as the “little fae” advances. Her steps each accompanied by a transformation of appearance, each one more beautiful and terrible than the last, until she walks out of view and stands by my ear.

“You fool. You simple, wonderful, innocent, perfect, naive, trusting, fool.” She laughs into my ear. Warmth radiates from her.

I’m frozen in place. Completely beholden to and trapped by her will… Ye gods and little fishes! Titania, Faerie Queen herself(!) was standing on my shoulder and held me completely in her will. I had missed something. Scratch that, I had certainly missed somethings. I began to think furiously over our entire encounter looking for clues and a way out.

“tsk tsk… That charade was fun while it lasted, my pet.” She says, and with a glimmer and a twist the whole world seems to tilt sideways and suddenly I can feel her standing behind me, her hand on my shoulder, maintaining contact, and her enthrallment. I’m reminded of an Edmund Blaire Leighton painting.

Fae, like people, are rarely straight-forward. Constantly testing, prodding, exploring, sizing up, dropping bids and hints. She had obviously been using her “Tinkerbell” persona to weigh and measure me. And what did I know about Titania exactly? I knew I should have read Midsummer Night’s Dream more closely. She wanted something… And what does anyone usually want from me? Ah, what fools these immortals be.

“Nice trick, now let’s treat.” Time to get to work. I school my face into a posture and expression of solemnity befitting compassionately addressing her excellency and declare, “In exchange for my freedom and life which you now hold, I swear myself as reagent of faerie until Allhallowtide’s end, beholden to quest on behalf of my Lady Titania in effort to repair whatsoever damages or differences she might have with her beloved Oberon. Now, my lady, and this is my true final question, what, pray tell, has so disturbed your peace that you besought my aid?”

Allow me to introduce myself. Hi, my name is Rdr. Andrew Gavin Valentine, Ph.D. I’m a part-time teacher, marriage and family therapist. And wizard.

Halloween Writing Contest Entry

This is a straight up rip-off of The Dresden Files. Or, rather, this would fit nicely into the universe. It was written for a Halloween writing contest at my work. Enjoy.


Halloween. Perfect for a summoning. Or ordering bags of your favorite candy from Amazon and hoping your house get’s TP’d (which, this year amounts to an act of charitable giving).

It’s time to get some answers, and maybe start to fix whatever the hell (waves hand in circular motion) “all this is”.

Summoning is pretty simple. Make a circle on the ground (chalk is easiest). Invest it with a drop of blood and a bit of your will. Concentrate really hard on who or what you want to appear there. Say their True Name three times and pull really hard like you’re Luke Skywalker trying to get the light saber out of the ice and then hope to God you have the mental fortitude to maintain concentration to keep the being physically bound within the circle. Bigger the being, stronger the circle needs to be; it’s more art and psychology than science (actually its specifically not science. It’s magic). Whatever you do, don’t break the circle.

“Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell.”

Snap, crackle, pop, and there she is. 6 inches of blazing cold light and fury zipping around like a banshee venting her fury (yeah, being summoned always pisses them off) with pyrotechnics that make Michael Bay look like an amateur. So beautiful… Stay focused! Just because she can’t get to you physically doesn’t mean she isn’t already in your head.

She freezes in mid-air, spinning around to face me, one bare foot pointed to rest delicately on a horizontal snow-flake above the ground. Devilish smile spreading mischievously across her face.

“Good evening Andrew.” 

I’d stumbled across this particular pixie some years ago. Kids, don’t try this at home, but you can go fishing for fae and hope that whatever you happen to call doesn’t completely outclass you and eat your brain. I’d realized that there was zero chance Walt Disney was making it all up, and was probably “in the know” like the Brothers Grimm before him. So I picked a being he portrayed as powerful, but also mostly benign, and hoped he wasn’t too far off. I was in no way disappointed.

“Almost got me there Tink.”

“Yes, I nearly did.”

She looks forlorn and pouts. “What do you want?”

“Pixie dust.” I hold up a nearly empty leather bag and give it a little shake to indicate my poverty. Happy thoughts and a little magic dust and you can fly. Tink here is my source.

She rolls her eyes, “Surely that’s not all.”

“Pay up Tink! We have a deal.”

She gives me an unamused deadpan glare and begins to hop, fairy dust showering down in a little ring all around her. “There. Good?”

“Actually, one more thing…”

“As expected…” She smiles the eager feral smile of a cat with a mouse, “what next?”

Gulp. But still, I’ve had enough. “What the hell is going on!?” I yell at her, a little more angrily than I had intended. Actually, I hadn’t intended to yell at all. But seriously! What is going on?

She freezes, looking every bit like a deer caught in headlights.

“I thought so.” I nod, tight lipped and determined.

“Whatever are you talking about?” She says through clenched teeth, barely affecting any of the faux innocence she’s going for.

“Give it up Tink. The world is falling right the hell apart. Global Pandemic, riots going on over 100 days now, choice between a clown and a vegetable for president. What. The. Hell. Is. Going. On.”

Her eyes shift back and forth like a cornered cat, and she licks her lips.

“Strike a new bargain?” I ask. 

Her eyes narrow, and she straightens a bit. I’ve got her attention. Faeries can never resist a bargain.

“No. You’re not taking my first-born, don’t even ask.”

“Oh come now Andrew,” she pouts and stomps her foot, every bit the picture of Tinker Bell, “you could at least have let me ask… You don’t have to be rude and take the fun out.”

“Ok, fine, you can ask.”

She grins eagerly, “A fair trade would be your firstb—”

“No. Next offer”

She rolls her eyes and groans.

“Come on, my knees are getting cold on this rough concrete, and its freezing down here. My nose is going to start dripping, and I’m super hungry. In fact, tell you what, give up the goods and I’ll give you an entire pizza.”

She brightens, and I don’t mean figuratively, I mean she literally explodes with yellow light. If there’s one thing faeries seem to love its pizza. Well, pizza and first born children. Then she dims visibly and wilts down to stand on the ground, her arms folded across beneath her chest. “I can’t.”

“You can’t what?”

“I can’t… make… any deals about what’s going on right now with those outside of Winter…”

What? That’s… That’s huge actually. Fae make deals like they breath air. It’s part of what powers them. They also can’t lie. So. Wow, ok this is big. I mean, global events already said it was big, but this is like, actually confirmed to not just be stupid bad luck on a global scale. Wait, going on right now. See, that’s the other thing about Faeries, they can’t lie, but like talking to an introvert if you actually listen to them you can find out all sorts of stuff.

“Say there Tink… Remember the 1918 flu?”

“I might… What are you offering?”

“Pizza. One piece per question answered.”

“Whole pizza, 3 questions.”

“Deal, but ‘remember the 1918 flu’ doesn’t count as one of the questions.”

Something not entirely unlike an invisible vice cranking down on her tightens and she shutters and blinks three times rapidly “Done and bound. Ask your questions three.”

“When was the last event of this magnitude?”

“541 through 1453”

Wait… That’s like 900 years…

“Was that the time span of some sort of Fae war or something?”

“Everything is some sort of Fae war or something Andrew. Final question.”

“Wat! No! I was thinking out loud!”

“And I was answering in kind. Final question.”

Crap. What to ask… I need more info, but I need more info before I even know what to ask…

“Can I just bank my final question for later?”

“No. Answered and done.” A feeling like thunder rumbles through the air and a taste like a mouth full of pennies as she is released from her part of the deal and now the vice clamps down on me. The sudden weight of the deal’s binding is so unexpected that I lose my focus, lose my balance, and accidentally set my hand down over the circle’s chalk line to steady myself —thereby shattering the circle’s power.

She pounces on my hand immediately. “Andrew, Andrew, Andrew….” She casually binds me. “My new pet!” She claps and giggles, dancing from foot to foot and spinning in a circle.

Oh no. Oh. No. nononononono. My scalp tingles and the hair stands up on the back of my neck. The pixie steps forward, walking slowly up my arm, each step leaving little pin-pricks of frost-bite as the little winter fae advances. Her steps accompanied by a transformation in appearance, each one more beautiful and terrible than the last, until she walks out of view and stands by my ear.

“You fool. You simple, wonderful, fool.” She laughs into my ear. Cold radiates from her.

I’m frozen in place. Completely beholden to and trapped by her will… Which makes no sense. She’s just a tiny winter faerie, she shouldn’t really have been able to focus long enough to do any real damage here…

“Who are you?” I ask, eyes narrowing.

“tsk tsk… That charade was fun while it lasted, my pet.” She says, and with a glimmer and a twist the whole world seems to tilt sideways and suddenly I can feel her standing behind me, her hand on my shoulder, maintaining contact, and her binding. There was more to “Tinkerbell” than meets the eye.

“Nice trick, now let’s treat.” I say through gritted teeth.

I’ll spare you the details of how we got there, but half an hour later I had bargained for my life back in exchange for agreeing to help her as a “reagent of winter for the duration of the conflict”. I’d also oh-so-painfully (because nothing is ever easy or free where Winter is involved) pulled the following information out of her, and hold on to your hats because it gets stupid. And weird.

So, I’m sure we all remember when Loki (Norse god of mischief) turned himself into a mare to seduce this epic horse that was helping a dude build a wall for Valhalla in order to win Freya (Norse goddess of love and war’s) hand in marriage and then he (Loki) accidentally got pregnant and got stuck as a horse until he gave birth to an eight legged horse named Slepnier. 

Well, it turns out Loki still has a thing for Freya, and is fighting over her with Hoenir (Another Norse god, who thousands of years ago gave away all his intelligence to mankind and is now basically the next thing to brain-dead). They’ve both turned themselves into humans and are running for president (again). Being somewhat “old fashioned” Freya’s apparently just letting them fight it out and taking whoever wins, but wait… There’s more! Odin (Freya’s… um, husband) is missing. And without Odin’s opposition Hel (goddes of the underworld and death) has broken loose across the earth in the form of plagues, riots, and just general global stupidity as a result. Well, come to find out Odin isn’t missing exactly, he’s been seduced by Titania, Queen of Summer herself as part of some sort of crazy retribution against dalliances by Titania’s husband the Summer King Oberon who came crawling back in a jealous rage over Odin, to try and win back Titania’s heart (her plan from the get-go). But where oh where does this little fae fit in? Oh. Oh. Well. Ok. This only barely passes the Bechdel test. Barely.

“I’m so sorry my lady…”

Dark as a thundercloud her face becomes as she shrinks back down to her natural size. “The fool should never have done my sister wrong in this way. I’m torn between simultaneously wanting to destroy him and restore him to her.” A single frosty tear rolls down her cheek, “It tears me apart to see not just her, but them all, this way. It is time something is done. You must help us.”

Ye gods and little fishes! Mab, Queen of Winter herself, is standing before me crying; asking for marital and familial help for two entire pantheons. A what fools these immortals be. #2020 man.

OK. Allow me to introduce myself. Hi, my name is Andrew Valentine. I’m a professional marriage and family therapist. And Wizard. And suddenly 2020 makes a lot more sense.

Notes to a Friend, or “The Godwork Machine”

Note: My recreational fiction writing was slammed into an extended pause following my coming down with the worst cold I’ve ever had (lasted basically the month of March 2020. Antibody tests indicate it was not COVID, but that is almost beyond belief for me). In the meantime, I have written a lot, but have not yet come back to my fiction. The following is one of the things I wrote during this time.


My dear friend Chris Corwin wrote a journal entry he created in response to a daily journaling prompt and kindly shared it with me today.

The prompt was “do you believe in God”.

I’m going to comment on some specific portions here, after summarizing it.

Summary:

G_d is a result of the sum total of the universe. Possible sentient, but in a way that would be more or less alien to us. Some sort of super-sentience or an alternative sentience possibly more akin to the way that botanical organisms are sentient, but at a near infinite order-of-magnitude larger complexity.

The Bible hints at this in it’s statements about time distortion or “clock time” vs “perceived time”. He interprets the Bible’s statements about great spans of time being as but a blink in the eye of G_d to being merely a one-way relationship pointing at an ancient being and how fast their perceived time must be going.

If G_d has a “sense of self” this requires a background framework on which to place that sense (and presumably lends credence to the concept of G_d as an emergent feature). Any sense of self is merely an emergent trick or useful illusion used to contextualize into pragmatic categories, partially centered around control and proximate awareness.

G_d is a label that we apply to a long-running process that need not have a sense of self, but which for our own conceptual convenience and contextualization, is more conveniently thought of as a “being”. This process is perceived to us to be the driving force behind all things that seem to have a driving force, or be otherwise separate from The Void. Therefore, G_d is what we call the driver behind what we perceive to be anti-Void emergences such as Wisdom, Intelligence, Design, Control, Fate, Destiny, Cause and Effect, Life, etc.

G_d is useful because it allows us to conceptualize and talk about these phenomenon in a way that even children and politicians can understand.

Analysis:

Corwin begins and ends by borrowing Jordan Peterson’s response that he “behaves like someone who believes in God” (although I don’t recall him ever explicitly stating what that means, in what ways he believes himself to be doing this, or what specific impulses/tendencies/behavioral changes are informed by this belief).

Peterson typically goes on to define who this God is. He does so in a way that while it overlaps with some aspects of Christianity, also at least partially misses the entire personal intimate relationship between Bride and Bridegroom. He does so as a Bride sitting in the vestibule of the church, describing in detail the ways in which the Groom is deserving of love and praise, but shyly reticent to enter into the marriage ceremony due to some ill-conceived notion that perhaps if he stays in the vestibule long enough, applying enough make-up, doing enough exercises, standing up straight with his shoulders back, improving himself, some day he might make himself worthy of walking through those doors to meet the Groom. Peterson is admirably but sadly mistaken. Having been married for many many years, he damn well ought to know better. It is the marriage that makes you worthy of it (or discover that you are not and never will be and are yet loved).

Corwin by contrast seems to describe instead of a Groom, a general mechanical force that could only in superficial ways be identified as part of God’s nature, but inverts everything to instead have God be the emergent result of what I would call some of His creations and some of the results of His nature. Corwin describes no explanation as to how his belief in God has informed his behavior, although such behavioral information can be extrapolated or guessed at if you know him well enough (granted there isn’t anything that stands out in the blog to me that could be described as behavioral information, except perhaps the belief in a certain pragmatism in a belief in a G_d).

In Corwin’s vision of God, God is a created being –or rather a super-being– that is the result of emergent processes and experiences. As if a neural construct that began, and grew, and from that growth resulted in a being so vast and beyond our comprehension that the only way it could reveal itself to us (if indeed it had any interest in doing so), or perhaps be conceptualized by us, is as a G_d, or as I will call it henceforth: the “Godwork Machine”. 

This Godwork Machine is therefore limited by and bound by time, just as we are. It experiences the same time perception distortion as we do. It is subservient to it, and subject to certain rules and limitations. This being is decidedly not the Christian God, as conceptualized by either the East or the West (perhaps though it is closer to the accidental Western conceptualization).

An interesting aside here is that due to time perception distortion, the Moment of the Big Bang at which this God Machine emerged would have felt as if an eternity in comparison to a single “moment” for it today. One could almost guess that, if it so existed, this God Machine could be (unforgivably) mistaken in a belief that it was indeed an Eternal Being. Echoes of the Big Bang which vibrate through space even now could serve as vague memories of some sort of infinity from which it emerged and which it might mistakenly believe it “came from” or that it was somehow “outside of” “the universe”. Memories of this eternal moment of being a singular point in literal nothing (prior to the expansion of The Big Bang) could well be misconstrued as awareness of a “different place”, a “super-natural state”. The obvious answer to this is that if I’m smart enough to have dreamed this up then the God Machine would have to be either entirely self-deluding or somehow less intelligent than me to not have realized this contingency.

Corwin transitions into a de-facto discussion of his belief in the non-existence of “free will”. It is not entirely clear whether he assigns this lack to the Godwork Machine or not, although I believe that the implication is there that not only is the Godwork Machine a result of the universe rather than the progenitor of it (and is therefore a creature), but furthermore the Godwork Machine is bound by and fully subject to time, as well as lacks what many commonly think of as “free will”. Therefore the Godwork Machine is a feature of creation, no more symbiotically important than Yeast in any way other than its vast pervasive nature. The Godwork Machine isn’t a discrete entity but rather the result of the sum total of the component parts of the universe. 

Another interesting implication is that the Godwork Machine, to the extent that it has what we recognize as “consciousness”, could have a vested interest in eliminating the malignant parts of itself. Such a motivation could explain something approaching “separating the sheep from the goats”. Especially if the Godwork Machine has an inkling of the millions of years potential of human beings to expand beyond the Earth and easily become a malignant nefarious force of untold pain and destruction for not only themselves but any other (illusory or no) forms of consciousness throughout the Universe.

There are some large gaps between Corwin’s thinking and an Orthodox understanding of God, although there are some inverted overlaps.

Corwin states:

Some — naively — will insist that G_d is “entirely outside of time” but that doesn’t hold up — an agent entirely outside of time would be unable to perceive time at all.

Indeed! He is correct! That’s an important miscommunication. I am almost certainly a culprit for one who has perhaps even stated those very words, but meant something very different than how I am now understanding it is easily taken. By “entirely outside of time” I mean that Time exists because it is something that God created and that it exists inside of Him. He is bound by it only at-will, which means it’s more like a “rule he chooses to follow” than a force that exerts control over Him (thus making Him subservient to it). Time obeys God, not the other way around.

God declares himself to be the only thing with ontological Existence.  The only Existing One. In Him and at his Will and Pleasure all creation came, rests, and exists. None of “this” actually exists at all in a true sense of the word. This is an inversion of Corwin’s belief that the God Machine is a result of the sum total of the universe. He has the emersion backwards, as all things emerge from God. He also has the “reason” backwards, rather than the God Machine being an Accidental or Random or Fatalistic result of the Universe, the Universe is instead an intentional result of God.

The Word (Jesus) is God and is the one in whom the beginning is (“in the beginning was the Word” or, stated again, “The beginning was in the Word” but NOT “the Word was contained/produced by the beginning”, “and the Word was God”). The Word is the one from which all things receive their being (“All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” this implies an outside causal force being the progenitor and bedrock foundational of the fundamental existence of all things, the directional flow is clear. Creation is a result of conscious will and effort of an outside force which yet contains and sustains creation within itself and is itself an active participant in creation). 

“No one has seen the Father at any time, the Word who is in the Father has revealed Him”. The Father IS (“I AM”, “YHWH”). The Word (Jesus) is the incarnate physical manifestation of the Father. He is the One who walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day. He is one of the three who came and dined with Abraham. He is the burning bush out of which the Father spoke. He is the “angel” who wrestled with Jacob. Given this understanding, and that all incarnate manifestations of God are said to be the Word, it only follows that the Christian God, as described by those who have spoken to Him and walked with Him, has declared Himself to be entirely independent from all things, but also that all things have their being “in His bosom”, and that he and the Father are One and that the way we are able to experience God to the extent that we do is through Christ the Word.

In summary, only the most loosely generous interpretation of an understanding of God could describe Christ the Word as the Godwork Machine. Even given this understanding (inconsistent with historical Christian/Judeo understandings) though, the Godwork Machine fails to actually accurately encompass or account for God the Father (not to mention the Holy Spirit) as understood by either Judaism or Christianity.

Mop

This is Part 4 of the longer story “Core“. Here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath, and turned around. There were eight other people on the elevator with me. A black gentlemen in a light blue blazer, narrow brimmed had, and dark sunglasses stood relaxed nearby clutching a briefcase and umbrella. A plump woman in a black dress covered with tiny white flowers, a necklace of fat round pearls strung round her neck. A youngish west-coast professional looking man in chinos and a polo. An old Chinese lady with a huge canvas hand-bag. None of them looked out the window, or gave any indication of concern or really any inclination to do anything but stand and wait what might come. Most of them politely ignored the existence of everyone else.

Two teenaged Japanese girls glanced timidly around periodically, obviously texting each other while they stood shoulder to co-ordinated-to-complement-outfitted shoulder.

I had to get off. Why was everyone standing around so placidly while we zoomed down? Especially so far! We just fell below the surface!

I looked around frantically for the control console or, failing to find that, for the floor indicators. I gripped the core tightly and clutched it protectively to my chest. I stepped forward to approach the doors of the inner, micro, elevator for a closer look.

Suddenly they opened.

Continue reading “Mop”

Switch

This is Part 3 of the longer story “Core“. Here are Part 1, and Part 2.

I exploded out into the concourse, pounded across the grey tile and into the bazaar. Legs churning, I ran past and stumbled into tables placed seemingly at random and strewn with cheap junk.

I looked down at the core in my hand. It was like some sort of Bic pen with a fat red core and an eye-dropper for a tip. What the heck? I had no idea what this thing was, but whatever was in it came out of my head. Some part of me screamed with greed and defiance, demanding that I do everything I could to protect it.

I ran on. If I could find an elevator or an escalator or anything I might be able to get away.

“Stop! Come back!” Pocket Square called after me.

Continue reading “Switch”

Core

This is Part 2 of the longer story “Core“. See here for Part 1.

I was very much taken aback. Most of his fingers were normal looking, but several were extremely misshapen and stubby and small. I looked up at his face and saw no indication that he thought there was anything particularly strange or different about his hand. My shock was reflected on the maiden’s face, her eyes wide. She was suddenly sitting very straight, looking at his hand and trying not to gape.

I glanced at Pocket Square. He seemed to have leaned forward ever so slightly, his posture intensely expectant. A wolf about to pounce.

I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry. Hesitantly I put my own elbow on the table and opened my hand. I looked up at Mo-hawk’s face again, a bit helplessly. There was no obvious way to clasp his hand and I wasn’t sure where to begin. He seemed completely unconcerned, and in fact wasn’t even looking at my hand.

Continue reading “Core”

8

They tumbled. Great balls of fire slowly drifting, smoke trailing behind them, flames billowing at an angle. Orange deepening into black, hard to tell where flames ended and smoke began. Like big black balls of cotton that had been thrust into a stunning sunset to soak up the color and then placed in a leaning stack one upon the other. Watching them fall was cathartic. Relaxing. Other aircars managed the opposite, their thrusters an ice blue streak as they ascended. A ladder of divine ascent playing dramatically outside of the window. Most of them just floated along, neither falling nor rising. Passing each other in opposite directions. Would the ones going left eventually join those falling? Were the ones going right destined to rise?

I gazed out of the window through the city, through the world, watching. Contentedly thinking about what she’d said. She watched me consider her words. Her thumb gently stroked my forefinger, the rings covering her fingers reflecting light and clinking softly. Our food sat between us forgotten, unable to add anything meaningful to our satisfaction.

The city spread above and below us. I’d never yet seen the top. I hadn’t seen the surface in so long it might as well have been never. Neither were visible, just rows of buildings and windows stretching out of sight above and below us. The aircars drifting lazily between it all, like bumblebees, reflecting our peaceful mood.

Some part of my brain, buried deep, assured me that way down below, below the surface, were the deeps. Waiting hangrily in the darkness. I dismissed the thought as irrelevant to the wonderful night I was having. Or maybe it was morning? Noon? Irrelevant. The soft pink glow that pervaded everything never changed anyways, except to become lighter if higher you ascended.

“Quite the sight huh?” A voice invaded our contemplation.

Continue reading “8”

Crash

Nolani coughed. Sand? What? It tasted awful, oily salty brine-y… tangy… citrus-y? Like some disgusting margarita that sat out all night in the heat by the ocean and then all the next day and then all the years it took until it was nothing but rocks and chemical lemon dust in the bottom of the glass, which itself hadn’t actually ever been washed from the first day her mother had put it to use in their slum cantina. The day… Well, her father would never have bothered to wash it after that anyways.

As she coughed it out she quickly became aware of a smell layered over all the taste. Metal. Rust. Like she was sitting next to her father’s angle grinder back home as he ate away at the corrosion that grew over everything in that salty air. The determined attention which he threw himself into punishing the cars and lampposts and street signs and junk he valued so much.

Continue reading “Crash”

Repentance

It’s no joke that you must become like a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven. Your heart and soul need be lain bare. You must be willing to be broken like a two-year-old. Unapologetic-ally pathetic. Uncaring of how ridiculous you are.

You know you’ve arrived when the snot running freely from your nose, dripping disgustingly on yourself and those you hug in an almost drunken manner as you beg their forgiveness bothers you not even a little. Although your brain (not to mention the looks on some of their faces) assures you matter-of-factly; that’s disgusting!

A week of church camp will do it. Monasticism in a box, or as close as you can get to it for a 16-year-old kid.

Go to the wilderness… You think it’s full of cottages made of candy guarded by incompetent witches, big bad(ly ineffective) wolves, dragons gift-wrapping helpless panting fawning maidens and piles of gold just ready for you to pillage.

If only there were dragons.

Continue reading “Repentance”